Life In A Light Bulb

Khushwant Singh was the rebel who preferred ideas to ideology

4/1/2017 2:16:34 AM
written By : M J Akbar Print

Khushwant Singh was never a journalist’s journalist; he was an author’s journalist. He brought the narrative sweep of an artistic temperament to periodical writing. He was already a phenomenon as a novelist with Train to Pakistan when he was invited to become editor of the Illustrated Weekly of India, a flagship publication of The Times of India group. But the ship had stalled on conventional design, born of a mindset that was still marooned in the British Raj.

One wonders if those who made him editor were fully aware of the consequences. Khushwant, week after illustrative week, became a shredding machine of convention. There must have been a few men at the top of the Times who were bewildered by his radicalism. But Khushwant never took seriously anyone who took himself too seriously. He was a sworn enemy of pomp, and defined his own circumstance. No other editor would dare to enter office wearing a towel-cloth T-shirt. It was a cultural shock. He carried off his insouciance with aplomb. Any and all opposition was silenced by the most powerful weapon in an editor’s armoury, the reader. The circulation rose with the majesty of a phoenix.

If fiction is about contemporary life then journalism is about temporary realities. Khushwant Singh traversed the distance without a hiccup because he laughed at the thought of being trapped in any ivory tower. He much preferred, as the iconic illustration above his column confirmed, life in a light bulb. Mario, that inspired artist and cartoonist, drew that 

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